Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Vintage Collections

Another day, another year end “Top 10” list! This time around we look at my favorite collected editions of vintage material published in the past year, “vintage” in this case being work originally produced prior to the year 2000. Eurocomics and Manga are both eligible here, as well, as long as they first saw print prior to all our computers failing, the electrical grid going dark, the food supply collapsing, and civilization falling apart on December 31st, 1999. Remember those crazy times?

10. Brat Pack By Rick Veitch (IDW) – Arguably the last great work of super-hero revisionism prior to Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, Veitch’s bleak and unforgiving look at the teen sidekicks of Slumburg is as shocking, ugly, and mean-spirited as ever — not to mention gorgeously illustrated. IDW pulled out all the stops with this one, loading it up with “behind-the-scenes” bonus material that all crusty aficionados of this rank, but spot-on, unpleasantness will surely find illuminating and engrossing. I still feel like I need to take a shower after reading this book to get the stain off — and yes, I mean that as a compliment.

9. Death Stand And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 22) By Jack Davis And Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics) – The harrowing reality of combat stress has arguably never been rendered in comics with more authenticity than in these classic EC strips illustrated by Davis and (largely) written by Kurtzman. Even people who think they probably don’t like war comics owe it to themselves to give this collection a shot and see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.

8. New Gods By Jack Kirby (DC) – This one probably deserves to be ranked higher purely on its merits, as many of the very best of Kirby’s Fourth World stories are in here, but considering that all of it was included in last year’s Fourth World Omnibus, this really just represents an essential purchase for absolute completists, or anyone who took a pass on the omnibus for budgetary or storage space (hey, it really is a beast!) reasons. Some of the finest comics ever made by anyone are found on these pages, though, so it earns a spot on the list even though it comes hot on the heels of a larger, more comprehensive collection.

7. Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground Edited By Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Underground) – Far and away the most disturbing book on this list, Osborne was probably the most grotesque and unsavory of the “first wave” of underground cartoonists — as well as one of the most talented, producing work so rich in detail and meticulous in its execution that it still literally boggles the mind. Editor Rosenkranz deserves tremendous credit for collecting all of this less-than-prolific artist’s work between two covers, and Dennis Dread’s detailed biographical sketch of Osborne’s troubled life is a terrific piece of comics scholarship. Not for all tastes and sensibilities to be sure — but if your “wiring” is as off-kilter as mine, this is an essential purchase.

6. Corto Maltese : The Golden House Of Samarkand By Hugo Pratt (IDW/Euro Comics) – One of Pratt’s finest and most ambitious Corto stories finally gets the deluxe treatment that has been lavished on the character’s previous adventures. If you’re a fan, that’s cause for celebration, and if you’re not — well, now’s the perfect time to become one! European genre comics simply don’t get any better than this.

5. best of witzend Edited By Bill Pearson And J. Michael Catron (Fantagraphics) – Anyone who couldn’t fork over the cash for the complete witzend slipcase collection a few years back will be overjoyed to find this well-curated collection of the finest strips to appear in Wally Wood’s legendary “pro-‘zine,” as editors Pearson and Catron present groundbreaking cartooning from artists that truly “run the gamut,” including Bernie Wrightson, Reed Crandall, Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Jim Steranko, P. Craig Russell, Art Spiegelman, Steve Ditko, Vaughn Bode — and, of course, Wood himself. A superb selection that will leave your head spinning and that, crucially, “ports over” the exhaustive historical essay work presented in the earlier, larger publication.

4. Master Race And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 21) By Bernard Krigstein (Fantagraphics) – The premier visual innovator in comics history, Krigstein’s astonishing work finally gets a truly deluxe presentation in this painstakingly-restored collection. The scope and grandeur of Krigstein’s imagination still positively boggles the mind, and its fruits have never looked better than they do in this sumptuous volume.

3. Love That Bunch By Aline Kominsky-Crumb (Drawn+Quarterly) – Okay, yeah, some of the material in this comprehensive retrospective came along after the year 2000, but the vast majority predates it, and it would be absolutely criminal not to find a list to include this on. I’ve always preferred Aline’s work to that of her more-famous husband, and these largely-autobiographical strips will probably go some way toward winning over even the most understandably reactionary fans who reflexively eschew anything with the “Crumb” name attached to it. I’m not here to judge how and why she can survive a marriage to one of the most talented-but-unsavory people in comics, only to state that her own work stands on its own merits and communicates a positive, empowering message in endearingly neurotic and self-deprecating fashion. I do, indeed, love that — meh, too obvious, right? Just buy the book, you’ll never regret it.

2. Kamandi Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – Finally! The amazing adventures of the last boy on earth get the “omnibus treatment,” and the result — while hefty both physically and financially — is nothing less than magic. One of Kirby’s absolute best comics ever, this is also one of the most imaginative, rip-roaring, and just plain fun works in the entire history of the medium. Nothing short of comic book perfection.

1. Dirty Plotte : The Complete Julie Doucet By Julie Doucet (Drawn+Quarterly) – Pioneering feminist auteur Doucet finally gets her due with this beautiful, two-volume hardcover slipcase collection that features all of her work from her legendary Dirty Plotte series, as well as a good chunk of material that was published before and since, a wide-ranging interview with the artist, and essays of appreciation from top cartooning talents. This was one of the formative works of the 1990s that helped blaze a trail for any number of women cartoonists, and is every bit as powerful, authentic, idiosyncratic, and funny now as it ever was. Doucet is, simply put, one of the most outstanding talents to ever draw breath. Here’s all the evidence would could possibly need to buttress that assertion.

And that’s four lists down, with two yet to come! Next up : the top 10 “special mentions” of the year, an eclectic category of “comics-adjacent” work that includes no actual comics per se, but narrative works (illustrated or otherwise) either by cartoonists, or about comics. It’ll make much more sense when I post it (probably tomorrow), I promise!

 

“Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground” Proves It Wasn’t All Peace And Love With The “Flower Power” Generation

If you’re going to San Francisco —

Fuck the “flowers in your hair” stuff and forget the “gentle people” — you’d do better to keep an eye out for the speed freaks, junkies, pickpockets, gutter-dwelling lowlifes, psychotic serial killers, devil-worshipers, and predators of every stripe. The Mamas And The Papas may not know about these folks, but former underground enfant terrible Jim Osborne was very familiar with them, given that he drew them. He wrote about them. He got right inside their heads. And, as the years progressed, he became one of them.

Okay, sure, Osborne didn’t kill anyone (other than, over time, himself), but he was arguably the most complex figure to emerge from the underground comix scene, an incomparable illustrator with talent to spare and a meticulous eye for detail, his work never less than desperately, harrowingly, soul-deep ugly — so much so that even people who cut their teeth on the likes of S. Clay Wilson are often shocked and disturbed by our guy Jim’s hopelessly depraved visions of a fallen world. Wilson, you see, almost always gave readers a safe “out” by being so outlandish, so beyond the pale, that the utter absurdity of even his most extreme strips rendered them “unrealistic” by default. Osborne, by contrast (in a manner not unlike the closest thing he probably has to a “spiritual successor,” Joe Coleman) offered up fever-dream scenarios that were all too plausible, at the least, often just plain all too real. You could see this shit happening if the thin veneer of civilization ever slipped, on either a collective or an individual level. “Visceral” was the starting point for Osborne’s comix, and where they went from there — well, let’s just say that if the abyss gazes back, Osborne not only meets its icy and dispassionate glare, he stares it down and says “is that all you’ve got”?

But let’s talk about where we are right now : it’s probably well past time for a reasonably comprehensive collection of Osborne’s work, but editor/compiler Patrick Rosenkranz (who has my eternal thanks for not referring to himself as a “curator”), the pre-eminent historian/scholar of the underground in this day and age, has gone well above and beyond with his just-released Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground, published under the auspices of Gary Groth’s “street cred” Fantagarphics Underground label and loaded with 120-plus pages of Osborne’s most eyeball-raping stuff, which is to say — bad dreams, here we come. There is no “unseeing” what’s in these pages.

To that end, small doses might be the preferred method for the average reader when confronted with something this mentally and spiritually toxic, but me? I devoured the book’s entire contents in one sleep-deprived evening, my jaw literally agape as I took in these ecstatic (in the truest sense of the word) hell-scapes originally created for publications ranging from the notorious Yellow Dog and Bijou Funnies all the way “up” to National Lampoon. I felt like I needed a brain-scaldingly hot shower afterwards, it’s true, but it’s testament to how immersive a collection this chronologically-presented assemblage of nightmarish id-explosions is that not only did I not want to put it down, I didn’t want it to be over. I know, I know — I need some serious help.

Roll call : murder! Sacrilege! Debauchery! Demonology! Conspiracy! Like a modern-day William Blake by way of the aforementioned Messrs. Wilson and Coleman, with a dash of Mack White at the margins, Osborne didn’t so much draw as he used his pencils, pens, and brushes as implements of exorcism, emptying the darkest corners of both conscious and subconscious mind onto the page with an exacting eye, a furiously-moving hand, and an utter lack of fucks to give. He’s not opposed to seeing the “funny side” when it presents itself, but more often than not the humor is as black and twisted as everything else on the metaphorical menu, and cuts just as deeply. This is art fully weaponized, with a goal of leaving no surviving comfortable delusions.

Providing absolutely invaluable context to these black-as-the-worst-night-of-your-life proceedings is Dennis Dread’s introductory essay/retrospective focusing on the totality of Osborne’s life and work, charting his trajectory from raw-but-talented Texas wannabe-illustrator to something approaching underground “superstar” in San Francisco to his long descent into the role of creatively dead alcoholic and drug addict wasting away on the streets (and in the bars) of the notorious “Tenderloin” district, finally ending as a tragic early victim of his own excess — along the way somehow finding time to embark upon a doomed marriage, out-live a younger brother he loved dearly, date an influential early-days female punk singer, even befriend notorious iconoclast/heretic Anton LaVey and rise to the level of “High Priest” in his Church of Satan. What a long, strange trip it’s been? You’d better believe it.

Even just a few short years ago, the idea that the man who created such memorable works that you wish you could forget such as Body And Soul and Men’s Lounge, The Tampico Hotel – 3 A.M. would have a lavishly-produced compendium such as this one dedicated to preserving his legacy of artistic nihilism would have been unthinkable, even if he was one of the foremost cartoonists of his generation in terms of sheer, unbridled talent (perhaps rivaled in the underground only by Guy Colwell, who likewise exhibited a breathtaking stylistic range), but the dogged determination of the indefatigable Rosenkranz, combined with the small-print-run economic model of FU (we get it, Gary, I promise you!) have made possible what once was anything but — and unlike other books carrying the imprimatur of this particular “micropress,” this one even offers nice value for money, boasting an entirely-reasonable $24.99 cover price. Certainly Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground will only appeal to a very narrow readership, but for those who fit into that small sliver, it’s something beyond an “essential” purchase and very near to a revelatory one. One of the most important, and defiantly repulsive, historical releases of the year.